Whenever there is discussion of the 'Abrahamic' faiths, difference is, of course, factored in, but it seems to me that there are way too may assumptions about similarity that throw the conversation a little. For me the single biggest issue of import, and. difference, revolves around imagery and the imaginary. In both Judaism and Islam, God is invisible and therefore not to be represented, Christianity, on the other hand, is a religion of revelation, of revealing--Jesus it is claimed, is the image of the invisible God. These differing views have sent cultures in entirely different directions.
I wrote the other day about the priority in Christianity on avoiding falsehood, that the axis of Judeo-Christian thinking is linked to all the "thou-shalt-nots" that frame the conversation. However, to nuance that a little I want to examine the second commandment and its expansion, or explanation that comes a little later, after the giving of the commandments.
"Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments."
Linked of course to the first commandment, to have no other gods before god, this command addresses the issue of making images of gods, something that seems to have been characteristic of most religious practices of the time. A 'graven image' is essentially an icon, a representation of the gods, but the prohibition goes even further--no likenesses of anything, and no bowing down to them.
A little later in the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses gets a further clarification,
“Therefore watch yourselves very carefully. Since you saw no form on the day that the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, beware lest you act corruptly by making a carved image for yourselves..."
In other words, no images are allowed because the encounter with god, was with a god who was invisible, and therefore cannot be worshipped via anything visible. So there is a boundary between the human and the divine--invisibility, and consequently a prohibition against representation. This plays out in all three of the Abrhamic faiths but perhaps more evidently in Judaism and lately in our encounters with certain facets of 21st century Islam--the protests against the danish cartoon of the prophet, Salman Rushdie's writing, and the Taliban's prohibitions on music, images etc.
(It is also linked on another level I think to coverings/veils-in both Judaism and Islam, and to be honest, in early Christianity--god is veiled, invisible, and those who come to him must also be covered--but I have to give that some more reflection and research before I can really say anything about that--because I think it is important and I think christianity had something to do with all that, but, another time.)
For now let me say that I think that Christianity works, or perhaps ought to work, on another logic, not the logic of prohibition, nor the logic/fear of religious falsehood, nor the logic of invisibility, but rather the logic of revelation, of seeing.
If Judaism and Islam operate on a logic of no representation, Christianity is the reversal--of Jesus it is said, 'he is the image of the invisible god,' you see him you see god--no longer invisible, veiled, hidden, but revealed--the veil is lifted and eyes can see what was previously unseeable? This takes the eye in new directions, accounts for the Western way perhaps of looking at the world--it becomes about the quest for revealing, for understanding (unfortunately this is often reduced to a search for ultimate truth, but to me this is different), rather than the avoidance of falsehood. This of course, is not without immense problems of its own, and, I am not certainly saying it is better, I am just highlighting what I think is an important difference within Christianity. Christianity has, nonetheless, wrestled with the role of imagery throughout its history, and still does, because the roots of the conversation are intertwined--its not so much an either or equation, perhaps a both and, but there is no doubt in my mind that there is a major distinction and that this distinction has an impact on how we see the relation between the mundane and the sacred.
Anyway, I am still thinking my way through all this, I'm just blogging about it, because I am experimenting with new approaches to how I do my thinking, so bear with me.